Ocean Voices at Plastics INC-2

Plastic pollution, threatening marine life and global ecosystems, has prompted the United Nations to commit to developing an Internationally Legally Binding Instrument on plastic pollution. Read about Ocean Voices members Kathryn Audroing, Gemma Nelson and Dr Marjo Vierros' experience at the second meeting of the INC in Paris between 29 May to 2 June 2023.

Plastic pollution has permeated the public consciousness with shocking images of marine life choking on plastic debris and growing reports of pervasive microplastics threatening human health. Even the most pristine parts of the planet: the Arctic, remote island archipelagos, and the deepest parts of the Ocean are littered with plastic waste. To address this crisis, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) decided in March 2022 to develop an international legally binding instrument (ILBI) on plastic pollution by 2025.

With the clock ticking, the first Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Develop an International Legally Binding Instrument on Plastic Pollution, Including in the Marine Environment (INC-1) to start developing the treaty was held at the end of 2022 in Uruguay. Due to procedural issues and political blocking, little progress was made. The second meeting of the INC (INC-2) was held in Paris from 29 May to 2 June 2023. The Ocean Voices team was represented by three participants: Kathryn Audroing (as part of the Turtle Village Trust delegation), Gemma Nelson (as part of the Palau delegation) and Marjo Vierros (as part of the Global Ocean Forum delegation).

Marjo Vierros and Kathryn Audroing in the Plenary Room on Day 2 of INC2
Marjo Vierros and Kathryn Audroing in the Plenary Room on Day 2 of INC2

This was the most procedurally contentious negotiation I’ve witnessed so far, with those procedural debates considerably delaying the substantive negotiations.

The Meeting

Despite the slow start to the meeting, one of the major achievements of INC-2 was an agreement to develop a zero draft of treaty text that will form the basis for negotiations at the next session. The first two and a half days of precious negotiating time were dedicated to procedural issues, firstly on the election of the Bureau and then a lengthy debate over whether INC decision-making would be by consensus, voting, or a combination of the two. There was considerable tension between those who wanted a strong treaty to combat plastic pollution with global provisions, and those who wanted the treaty to be voluntary and its ambition mainly decided by individual countries. When work on the substance finally started on the third day of the five-day meeting, the Secretariat’s non-exhaustive “Options Paper” was debated, with countries bringing forward views on what should be included in the future instrument. The INC was divided into two Contact Groups, the first group discussed the objective, core obligations, control measures and voluntary approaches1 and the second discussed means of implementation, implementation measures and additional matters2. Despite the time crunch, it was clear that the President, supported by the Bureau, the Secretariat and Facilitators, made every effort to provide states sufficient time to aerate their views on each section of the Options Paper. 

In contact group 1 we saw growing agreement on including the marine environment in the overall objective, addressing hazardous polymers and general convergence on the need for increased cooperation, coordination and building on existing mechanisms under other instruments such as the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. In contact group 2, it was heartening to see the convergence from all delegations on the need for strong means of implementation through a range of actions including capacity building, technical assistance, transfer of technology and financial mechanisms which would take into account the special circumstances of SIDS and LDCs. The willingness of some delegations to include new mechanisms such as the Implementation and Compliance Committee came as a surprise but indicates a positive trend towards facilitative and assistive mechanisms in multilateral frameworks.

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Kathryn Audroing, Lucy Hibble Principal Scientist at Nekton Foundation and Gemma Nelson networking on Day 5 of INC2

There are only fifteen (15) days of official negotiations mandated by UNEA Resolution 5/14 which is very little time to cover the issues raised at INC1 and INC2. Stakeholders, namely the scientific, policy and legal communities and related treaty bodies, need to mobilise accordingly.

Agreed Way Forward

While deciding on the way forward beyond INC-2 was also contentious and subject to last-minute debate, it was agreed that views on each section of the Options Paper had been discussed and these discussions provided sufficient basis for the President to compile a zero draft. The zero draft will be debated at the third session (INC-3), to be held from 13 to 17 November 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. At the request of one delegation, an additional synthesis paper will be produced to include elements not covered by the Options Paper, such as principles and scope. Delegations will discuss these topics one day before INC-3 commences.

Gemma Nelson and Kathryn Audroing with AOSIS Advisors Joan Yang and Saeed Hamid
Gemma Nelson and Kathryn Audroing with AOSIS Advisors Joan Yang and Saeed Hamid


Given the delays in substantive negotiations, INC-3 will be critical and must be the start of text-based negotiations based on the Chair's zero draft. INC3 needs to leverage the work done so far and not restate INC-2 positions. In order to do so, the Secretariat should have a clear and coherent program of work prepared well ahead of the INC which would assist delegations and regional groups prepare for INC3 discussions. Member states should also be prepared to engage on the principles and scope and to have a clear understanding of how those issues impact the future instrument. Noting the convergence in the means of implementation discussion, it will be essential to begin crystallizing the understanding of the specific types of capacity building, technology transfer and financing needed to address plastic pollution, including in the marine environment and how the special case of SIDS and LDCs could be realized in this treaty. Science-policy groups such as Ocean Voices are in a good position to help countries better understand the science behind plastic pollution, its impacts on the environment, human health and equity, and the types of capacity building, technology and technical assistance that could be considered for implementing the future instrument.

Kathryn Audroing of Turtle Village Trust with Kahlil Hassanali, advisor to delegation of Trinidad and Tobago
Kathryn Audroing of Turtle Village Trust with Kahlil Hassanali, advisor to delegation of Trinidad and Tobago
1 See Parts A and B of the UNEP Options Paper (UNEP/PP/INC.2/4) dated 13 April 2023
2 See Parts C, D and E of the UNEP Options Paper (UNEP/PP/INC.2/4) dated 13 April 2023 


Authors: Gemma Nelson, Dr Marjo Vierros, Kathryn Audroing

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